Taliban (file photo). Photograph:( Reuters )
It is the fifth district of Kandahar provonce to fall into the hands of Taliban
The Taliban have taken control of a key Kandahar district after fierce night time fighting, officials said on Sunday. Kandahar is a former bastion of the Taliban. The officials added that scores of families fled from the area. The fight between the Taliban and Afghan forces took place during the night.
The Taliban have continued their offensive since early May when US military began its final withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The fall of Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar comes just two days after US and NATO forces vacated their main Bagram Air Base near Kabul, from where they led operations for two decades against the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies. Panjwai is the fifth district in the Kandahar region to fall to Taliban.
The Taliban also have control of a border post with Tajikistan in northern Afghanistan.
Over the years, the Taliban and Afghan forces have regularly clashed in and around Panjwai, with the insurgents aiming to seize it given its proximity to Kandahar city, the provincial capital.
The leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, hails from Panjwai.
The province of Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, who went on to rule Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic sharia law until being overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2001.
Panjwai district governor Hasti Mohammad said Afghan forces and the Taliban clashed during the night, resulting in government forces retreating from the area.
"The Taliban have captured the district police headquarters and governor's office building," he told AFP.
Kandahar provincial council head Sayed Jan Khakriwal confirmed the fall of Panjwai, but accused government forces of "intentionally withdrawing".
'Taliban don't want peace'
Scores of families of Panjwai fled their homes after the Taliban captured the district, an AFP correspondent reported.
"The Taliban fired on our car as I was fleeing with my family. At least five bullets hit my car," Giran, a resident of Panjwai told AFP as he took refuge in Kandahar city.
"The Taliban are on top of the mountains and firing at any moving vehicles. The Taliban don't want peace."
Assadullah, a commander of border police in the area, said it was only the police force that was fighting against the insurgents.
"The army and the commandos who have better military equipment are not fighting at all," he said.
Panjwai is the fifth district in Kandahar province to fall to the insurgents in recent weeks.
(With inputs from agencies)